Italy's hung parliament reconvenes with horse trading over speakers


Rome (AFP)

Italy's deadlocked parliament reconvenes on Friday, with a battle for the positions of speaker in each house laying the ground for a future fight over who will lead a new government.

The newly-elected lower house Chamber of Deputies and upper house Senate will begin the process of electing their new speakers after parliament opens.

The right-wing coalition led by nationalist Matteo Salvini's League party, which gained the most votes with 37 percent, is aiming for the Senate position and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5s), Italy's largest single party with 33 percent, is going for the Chamber.

Friday's vote is important because, until both are chosen, consultations between Italy's President Sergio Mattarella and those vying to form a new government can't begin.

There are two distinct voting systems in place for the Chamber and the Senate speakers, which could see voting last until Easter and maybe even beyond.

The selection of the 321-seat Senate speaker is relatively straightforward, with the winning candidate being chosen after a maximum of four rounds of voting over the weekend.

If no-one achieves an absolute majority by the third round, the two most popular candidates of the third ballot will face a run-off.

The right is favourite for the Senate speaker, as it currently holds 135 seats and is only 26 away from a majority. A few seats are still officially unassigned in both houses.

The vote for the Chamber's speaker is potentially more complicated, with no limit to the number of ballots that can be held before a candidate is elected and no one group close to a majority.

If the aspiring speaker fails to earn a two-thirds majority vote from 630 MPs, the quorum will progressively lower until the fourth round, when a simple majority of voting MPs is needed.

That means that political leaders need to strike deals and make sure their MPs vote with them.

- Stalemate -

The hung parliament that emerged from the election has led to Salvini and M5S head Luigi Di Maio competing over who should lead not just both houses but also the new government.

They have ceded little ground in the aftermath of the vote, while centre-left Democratic Party (PD) -- whose coalition finished third with 23 percent -- has insisted that it will remain in opposition rather than help form a government.

Both Salvini and Di Maio have said that they are open to working with other parties, but only if their individual manifestos are respected.

Their flagship policies appear incompatible, however.

Salvini's coalition wants a flat tax of 15 percent, while the M5S wants to create a universal income for Italy's poorest.

The right also has two major parties competing within its four-party group which makes discussions with the M5S even trickier.

Three-time former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia won 14 percent compared to the League's 17 percent in the election.

M5S founder Beppe Grillo called Berlusconi "poison dwarf", while in November the 81-year-old said that a M5S government would "send the country to ruin".

- Embezzlement -

The only name that so far has been publicly put forward for either speaker position is that of Forza Italia's Paolo Romani, economy minister in Berlusconi's last government, for the Senate.

"The name that we all prefer is Paolo Romani," said Forza Italia's outgoing deputy Senate speaker Maurizio Gasparri in Thursday's edition of daily Corriere della Sera.

However, the M5S has refused to vote for Romani thanks to his 2014 conviction for embezzlement, for which he was given a suspended 16-month sentence that was confirmed on appeal in October.

"The right continues to propose the candidacy of Romani, who we cannot vote for," Di Maio said on Facebook on Thursday.

Di Maio's party is opposed to any candidates with previous convictions under investigation by the authorities, meaning that the right will have to convince PD senators to vote with them.

Romani's conviction came after he was found guilty of giving the mobile phone he had been supplied with as local councillor in the northern town of Monza to his 15-year-old daughter.

She then spent over 12,000 euros in phone bills between January 2011 and February 2012, a period in which her father was both a councillor in Monza and Economy Minister.